Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Amanda Oborne, the Vice President of Food and Farms at Ecotrust, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Amanda Oborne (AO): My parents opened a small grass-fed buffalo ranch as a retirement project in 2006, and I discovered the plight of small-scale farming first hand. At the same time, I was reading books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching films like “King Corn,” which together opened my eyes to a food system I had taken for granted my entire life.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
AO: What people choose to put on their plates has incredible power. Especially at a time when so many things feel beyond our control, choosing food that helps spawn strong local economies, better health, restorative ecosystems, and equitable communities is positive and empowering (not to mention delicious!). The collective impact of billions of individual purchasing decisions will change the system, and indeed, has already begun to do exactly that.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
AO: Our work at Ecotrust currently centers on creating new frameworks that will allow large-scale food buyers (think schools, hospitals, corporate cafeterias) to source food from hundreds of small and midsize independent regional producers, rather than taking whatever flows from the global industrial pipe of broadline distribution. Even minor shifts in multimillion-dollar procurement budgets have the potential to catalyze radical change. Furthermore, those same institutions are feeding some of our most vulnerable neighbors, which makes them efficient delivery vehicles for getting nutrient-dense food to the people who can least afford it.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
AO: Our food system is littered with food heroes, from those doing the backbreaking work of tending the fields and animals that feed us to those doing the thankless work of food prep, delivery, and clean up. Certainly many journalists, filmmakers, chefs, and food “celebrities” deserve credit for raising our collective consciousness, but the reality is that we are literally surrounded by food heroes all day, every day.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
AO: Enlightened self-interest!
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
AO: Resource depletion. I can only imagine how abundant and limitless our fields, forests, rivers, and oceans must have seemed in my grandparents’ generation. The density and scarcity we and our children currently face must have been inconceivable to them.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
AO: Recognition that food is fundamental to life, not just a tool for profit.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
AO: Eat what’s in season in your area. I think of eating seasonally as “cheap and cheerful”—what is naturally abundant is also more affordable and more delicious, plus you can feel great about participating in a “virtuous cycle” of chain reactions that will reverberate through the food system.
Just between us, I also think there’s a profound secret known to those who tune deeply into their place and its seasons. Thousands of years of evolution in the wild have rendered us natural beings, and we still respond to those cues—new buds, the smell of rain, birds—when we slow down enough to notice them. I think those seasonal rhythms can be the best antidote to nonstop screen time and our “always on” society.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
AO: We’ve got to finish getting antibiotics out of our mainstream meat supply, which goes hand in hand with lowering the stocking rates in our meat production systems so animals don’t get sick in the first place, which goes back to us eating less meat overall. Policymakers could align incentives to catalyze that shift by reducing subsidies on crops grown for animal feed, which on its own kicks off a vicious cycle of marketing meat consumption. My mantra: less meat, better meat.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
AO: Journalist Tom Philpott nailed this one. Would love to see every one of his questions asked at the debates and addressed by the next president.
Join the discussion using #FoodTank across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!